KBCS cued up to grow

by Ashley Bach, Seattle Times

From a one-story house at Bellevue Community College, a small community radio station, KBCS-FM (91.3), airs everything from Armenian folk music to locally produced news. It's one of the only places in the area where anyone can walk in off the street and, eventually, get on the air.

But as the station celebrates its 35th anniversary this month, its managers look at their cramped quarters and the growing number of listeners and hope for bigger things. They want to move into a new building on campus, upgrade their facility and become a training site for BCC students.

Quirkiness — which the station has in spades — is not enough anymore. Take the bathroom that shares a wall with the on-air studio. No one can use the toilet while the microphone is on or the sound of flushing will spread over the airwaves. The barking dog next door is another scourge.

"Everything's good for a laugh here," said Sabrina Roach, the station's outreach director. "But, in a lot of ways, we've outgrown this space."

The station began modestly as a 10-watt student-training lab in the early 1970s. By the '80s, the station began to broaden its reach beyond campus with a stronger signal and more volunteers who weren't students.

In 2002, the station even moved to Factoria, in space rented by BCC, before moving into the house on the edge of campus two years ago.

Over the past several years the station has diversified its content, from a narrow focus on jazz and folk to everything from hip-hop and electronica to soul and country. The station also produces two news shows, "One World Report" and "Voices of Diversity," which bring in volunteers and listeners interested in journalism and public affairs.

Most of the station's listeners — about 50,000 a week — and its 150 volunteers are from Seattle. And while the typical listener a decade ago was a middle-aged white male, the station's base now spreads across gender, racial and musical lines, Roach said.

On Thursday afternoon, with less than an hour until showtime, about eight volunteers put the finishing touches on "One World Report." They review pieces on organic produce and health-care activism, master the pronunciation of names and stage a final read-through.

"It's like a little miracle every week," says Yuko Kodama, 39, a Seward Park resident who has volunteered for 2 ½ years.

Like many other volunteers, Jill Bolduc, 42, drives in heavy traffic across Lake Washington to KBCS regularly, even though she lives and works in Seattle. "But we all do it," she said, "because we love it."

For $140, anyone from high-school students to senior citizens can take part in several weeks' training at the station in basic broadcasting or audio engineering.

The station is licensed to BCC, and its managers are college employees, but it operates relatively independently of the school, said General Manager Steve Ramsey. Over the next couple of years, though, the station may offer training and classes for students, including a digital radio channel produced solely by the student body.

Ramsey also wants the school to open a multimedia training center on campus, which would give the station a more comfortable space and plenty of room for training.

BCC spokesman Bob Adams said the radio training for students could happen soon, but it would take several years to get money for a new building from state lawmakers. The station, which is financed through listener support and business underwriting, could pay for the new building itself, but that would require much more aggressive fundraising.

Expansion won't come at the cost of the grass-roots operations of a community radio station, Ramsey said. "We want to keep this model," he said. "There's no other station that can operate like this."

article originally published at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2004196853_kbcs23e.html.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey